Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Fruit of Rebellion: Catholic Institutions for Religious Women

"..This now organized effort to get us back into the older form."

I had heard about the Vatican sending officials to visit various institutes of women religious in the United States, and of course, rejoiced. Rejoiced because I know that many of these religious institutions have wandered far from their Catholic roots. Rejoiced because many of these who refuse the name "Sister," were partly responsible for my weakened spiritual formation. Rejoiced because these "progressive" orders weren't increasing in their vocations and finally, something seemed to be in motion to address it.

Am I angry? I am only angry at the devil for successfully deluding so many. The self-absorption and misguided steps of many of these "enlightened" religious communities have done more damage within the Catholic church than I'm sure they'd be willing to admit. The above quote was from a letter from Sr. Sandra M. Schneiders, a member of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Michigan. She is a professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, California. (Yes, it did not escape my attention. Berkeley.) 

Here is part of her letter, that was reprinted recently in the National Catholic Register. My comments are in red.:

We realized, by our return to the Gospel and to our own foundations, that we were called to much more radical [meaning in-depth] renewal than surface adjustments of lifestyle. (So prior women religious orders before the 70's didn't have in-depth commitment? Not one of the centuries of these communities went beyond 'surface adjustments of lifestyle?') There is no going back. But I think we may have to claim this, calmly and firmly, in the face of this now organized effort to get us back into the older form. (In other words, you don't want to even consider anything that the Vatican may suggest.) We are as different from "apostolic Religious Congregations” [such as those represented by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, or CMSWR] (of whom the Vatican is much more approving) as the mendicants were from the Benedictine monks. The big difference is that they [apostolic Religious Congregations] read Perfectae Caritatis and did what it asked: deepened their spirituality (I hope), and did some updating -- shorter habits, a more flexible schedule, dropping customs that were merely weird, etc. (Would that have included praying the rosary? Studying the lives of the saints? However, I suppose it's not 'weird' to include a drumming circle.) We read Perfectae Caritatis through the lenses of Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium and we were called out of the monastic/apostolic mode and into the world that Gaudium et Spes declared the Church was embracing after centuries of world rejection. (Called out? Then why take the vows? Why commit your life to one of separation? If you feel you are called into the world then perhaps you missed your vocation to begin with and should have remained within the laity.)

I could be wrong, but my understanding of women who took vows to enter into a consecrated life through a religious institution was that it meant they were separating themselves from the world - for a purpose. That purpose could be a monastic life, filled with prayer and reparation for the sins of the world; or it could be a life focused on serving the needs of others, such as assisting in the spiritual formation of children or serving the poor within their communities. I don't understand how someone could say they wanted to be a nun but then balk at the requirements. Aren't there standards?

Here is the vision of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary:

The IHM community envisions and is committed to bringing about the dream of God on planet Earth through respect for, nurturing of and promoting the liberation and well-being of all persons and all of nature as God's good creation.

The "dream of God?" "Well-being?" Okay. Maybe I missed it, but where is "sin" mentioned? Repentance? Forgiveness? Catholic doctrine? In fact, this bland vision statement is so lacking in vision that it renders itself almost useless. You know what it says to me? It is the product of too many hours of discussion over what is "politically correct" and what isn't. It has no backbone, no 'oomph' when it comes to reflecting the rock-solid, historical truth of the Catholic Church. In short, it is boring and lifeless.

An interesting link was in the NCR piece. It led to a the “Symposium on Apostolic Life: Religious Life Since Vatican II ... Reclaiming the Treasure” held in Boston last year in October. This is very telling. One of the keynote speakers, Sister Sarah Butler, MSBT, in addressing the current state of division within religious communities, said this:

“The reality of this polarization is more than regrettable; it is a cause of scandal. It is a counter-sign. We are called to be vivid, visible signs of the kingdom and to attract others to Christ and his Church by the joyful witness of our consecrated lives.”

This polarization continues abetted by bishops unwilling to confront progressive religious, she said.

Part of the problem was timing, she said. The 1960s and 1970s were the worst times to initiate reforms, given the turmoil and strife that marked those decades. This was especially true, considering the Second Vatican Council’s emphasis on the apostolic at the expense of the monastic, she said.

Because much of the apostolic impulse was expressed through participation in social justice crusades, after religious had finished fighting for civil rights or to end the Vietnam War, they turned the tactics and revolutionary fervor towards perceived injustices inside the Church, she said.

The other aspect of the problem was that Church leaders underestimated the strength of radical feminism in the United States, she said. This strain of feminism is no longer a part of the conversation in civil society, but it remains ascendant within religious communities, she said.

And that, my friends, is the crux of the matter. Feminism. In its most radical form, it is not only a renouncement of God's divine order of authority, but defiance. It is straight from the pit of hell if you examine it closely. Who raised his fist against God, demanding to be worshipped? Who is the father of disobedience? Who whispered in the ear of Eve and purred, "Did God really say...?" Who tempted Eve and then Adam with the proposition that they didn't need God, they could reach enlightenment on their own?

There will always, always, always be opposition from the enemy when it comes to living the Christian life. 

What is at issue, dear Sisters, is Catholic identity. I think that is what the Vatican will be evaluating.


Dymphna said...

May there orders die out completely.

Maccabeus said...

I think this blog hit the nail on the head. When a religious "order" focuses on saving the Earth and trying to create a paradise here and now, while forgetting about the value of each individual soul, and about our real final destiny, Eternal Life, the result is worship of the self, humanism. I hope the Vatican study can get the orders who have drifted into the wilderness, back to the basics. With all due charity, please step aside, Sr. Schnieders.

Dan Auer said...

oops, wrong ID

Tom Ryan said...

Tragic story of the IHM nuns

Rachel said...

I read the whole letter from that "sister". Such pride and anger and dislike and distrust of the Church leadership.

Fortunately that kind of thing *is* dying out, rapidly, as young women vote with their lives for traditional congregations.

Anonymous said...

Tom - thanks very much for the culturewars link - very enlightening.

Since ovecoming adolescent excitement with the 'new and radical', I have realised for years that Reich was a misguided fool with his brains in his underpants but I didn't realise people took him so seriously - nor that 'intelligent' people would fail to see the damage his ideas, put into practice, would do.